NEW YORK CITY — More than 600 school buildings with toxic light fixtures will have them replaced by 2016, officials announced Tuesday.
The city will accelerate their planned 10-year schedule for removing potentially PCB-laden lights in school buildings after a successful agreement was reached with critics of the former plan, according to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo and Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Focusing the program exclusively on changing light fixtures and “adopting different approaches for contracting this work,” the city was able to reduce the time needed to replace all lights in 645 buildings by the end of 2016 “without disrupting critical education programs,” according to a press release.
The new plan came from detailed discussions between the city and advocacy group New York Communities for Changes’s counsel with additional input by the U.S. District Court after the group filed a lawsuit in 2011, according to the press release.
“Our top priority is making sure our schools are the safest environment possible,” said Quinn, in a press release. “[A]nd with this shorter timeline we will be much closer to the day when parents and school staff no longer have to worry that they are exposing their children and themselves to highly toxic carcinogens.”
Older school buildings may have used fluorescent light fixtures containing PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls – a group of chlorinated compounds that can be found in buildings constructed or renovated between 1950 and 1978. The manufacture of the chemical was outlawed in 1977.
The city announced a 10-year comprehensive plan in February 2011 to replace all lights containing the chemical in school buildings but recent PCB leaks in schools across the city have infuriated concerned parents and teachers.
People can be exposed to PCBs through breathing air that contains the chemical or eating contaminated food or water. Acne and rashes are the most common health problem associated with prolonged exposure, as well as liver problems but it’s uncommon for most people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.